In the Southern region of Sri Lanka lies the Galle district. Balpitiya is a little town in the district and would be quite unimportant; except for the location of a river. The Madu River is very rich in biodivesity. It passes through the wet zone of Sri Lanka opening up into the large Madu Lagoon on its way to the Indian Ocean.
A Look into Madu River
The Mangroves and their Ecology – Facts
The Madu River area surrounding the river are all swampy marshlands covered in mangrove forests.
The forest covers over 61 hectares, that is over 150 acres. 14 of the 24 species of mangroves are found in this area.
It is interesting to note that mangroves play a huge part in preventing erosion.
The value of the mangroves was understood in December 2004, during the devastating tsunami, when forest acted as a natural barrier protecting the region.
The large growths of mangrove trees have caused a chain of ecological gain. The soil protected by the mangrove trees is very fertile. This has caused a rich growth of other wetland plants.
Over 300 species, 19 of which are endemic, have been discovered so far.
The region continues to be a treasure trove to biologists and ecologists with many undiscovered species in the unreachable depths of the mangrove forests.
The plantlife in turn have supported a large number of wildlife that depends on them.
The largest animal in the region is the wild boar. There are other smaller animals such as monkeys, a variety of squirrels, etc.
When it comes to birds, cormorants and kingfishers are a common sight. For avid bird watchers, the mangrove forests are a dream coming true. There are over 111 bird species identified to inhabit the region.
There are 31 types of reptiles, namely snakes, lizards and crocodiles.
There are also over 50 kinds of butterflies and 25 kinds of molluscs found in the Madu River zone.
The cycle of ecology continues with relatively undisturbed in this region. The region is protected as a Ramsar Wetland Site since 2003. Here is the excerpt from the official Ramsar site that describes the Madu River zone:
“Maduganga. 11/12/03; Southern Province; 915 ha; 06 18’N 080 03’E. A mangrove lagoon joined to the sea by a narrow canal and containing 15 islands of varying size, some of which are inhabited. It is formed of two shallow waterbodies, Maduganga and smaller Randombe Lake, connected by two narrow channels. On the islands and shores relatively undisturbed mangrove vegetation contains a rich biodiversity qualifying the wetland for 7 Criteria of International Importance. Many globally/nationally endangered, endemic and rare species – e.g. Shorea affinis, an endemic and endangered plant, Mugger (Crocodylus palustris) vulnerable (IUCN Red Book) and CITES-listed Purple-faced Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus), endangered, Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata), Indian Python (Python molurus) find shelter here. The lagoon provides the breeding, spawning and fattening ground for many fish species and supports 1.2 % of the Little Green Heron biogeographical population. The cultural heritage is very prominent, with numerous ancient temples in the area and on the islands. Maduganga helps in flood control by storing water during monsoon rains and retains nutrient run-off from nearby cinnamon plantations. The major occupation of the local people is fishing and agriculture (cinnamon and coconut). Poaching of wild animals and waterfowl is unfortunately increasing, and extensive use of fertilisers and consequent abundant growth of invasive species, e.g. Najas marinas or Annona glabra, are factors of concern. Part of a Coastal Resources Management Project funded by the Dutch Government – ADB, with a management plan expected in 2006. Ramsar site no. 1372. Most recent RIS information: 2003.”
The Islands and their Charms
With most of the area being soggy wetlands, the solid landmass of the region mainly consists of islands. History states there used to be 64 islands along Madu River. However most seem to have sunk under the water, as only 25 islands are reported today. Of these islands only 15 have a sizable landmass.
Some of the islands are inhabited, but all are covered in forests and shrubs. One of the larger inhabited islets, ‘Koth Duwa’, houses a Buddhist Temple that dates back to the days of the oldest kings of Sri Lanka. Meanwhile two other islets bear the history of the the country by having been the refuges to two different kings, King Dhathusena and King Mugalan.
The main source of economy for the locals of the Madu Ganga (River) region is the cinnamon industry. The freshly cinnamon is brought here to be peeled. By default, this also means that the best quality cinnamon can be purchased at bargain prices here.
Those who are not in the cinnamon industry, earn from fishing or as boat guides. The fishermen either sit atop large branches planted in the water and fish using poles; or they tie nets between poles planted in the water to capture passing fish.
An interesting thing to be visited of the area is the Open-Air Fish Massage. The fish massage is quite popular around the world, especially in East Asian countries. The unique factor about this massage is that the fish are held in their natural environment, the river. A large space is sectioned off by nets tied between poles; restricting the fish from leaving that area. Other than that, they are free to move around. The client simply sits on a pier and dips his or her feet into the water.
The Madu River Safari is popular activity that has to be on the ‘to do’ list of any respectable Sri Lankan holiday goer. This unforgettable activity last for over two hours and gives a visitor a chance to travel the secretive passages through the mangrove forests and see the ecology.